TERRE HAUTE —
Over the span of its 103-year history, the Indiana boys high school basketball tournament has traditionally generated its share of stunning upsets.
None were bigger on the Wabash Valley scene than those that unfolded 50 years ago this month. That’s when an unheralded band of Garfield cagers from the Terre Haute northside made an improbable run in the 1963 state tourney.
This ballclub struggled during the early part of the season, searching to find a winning formula, only to reverse its sagging fortunes as tourney time approached. It was a winning combination that, when discovered, stunned insiders with a late-season turnaround and led to a trip to the state finals at historic Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Saddled with a 3-9 record and facing a losing season mark near tourney time, the Purple Eagles put together a 13-game winning streak.
That blitz of a finish not only surprised the so-called experts who had predicted an early exit from the tourney for the northsiders but many of Garfield’s loyal followers.
<center>Beginning of the tourney run<center/>
The magical journey began in the always-unpredictable Terre Haute Sectional, where the Eagles had to squeak out a narrow two-point win over city rival Wiley, an overtime victory over West Vigo and then a lopsided win over arch-rival Gerstmeyer in the title game.
All three of their opponents had beaten the Eagles earlier in the season, including Gerstmeyer, which took a four-overtime decision from Garfield on the same Indiana State Arena floor only weeks earlier in the regular season.
Anchored by a stingy defense, the Eagles rolled through the Terre Haute Regional with convincing wins over little Freedom and perennial tourney powerhouse Bloomfield, earning them a ticket to the Evansville Semistate.
Defending state champion Evansville Bosse was the clear-cut favorite playing on its home court at Roberts Stadium. The rest of the field included little Ireland, Seymour and the upset-minded Eagles.
<center>A semistate to remember<center/>
As expected, Bosse had little trouble disposing of the Ireland Spuds, while the Eagles continued their unexpected winning run with a nailbiting 52-51 decision over Seymour in the second game of the afternoon.
That set the stage for what appeared would be a certain return trip to the state finals for the seasoned 22-4 Bulldogs.
Almost from the onset, the title game turned as ugly as the damp and dreary skies that surrounded the crowded stadium for the heavily favored Bulldogs as they felt the sting of a puzzling Garfield defense that had the hometown team tied up in knots throughout the night.
The Eagles meticulously built an 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and were on top by five at the intermission. Even with their near-perfect effort and entering the final period clinging to a precarious 43-37 advantage, few in attendance gave the Garfield squad a chance of fending off an inevitable rally from the defending state champs.
In what the assembled press would later term one of the biggest upsets in tourney history, the Eagles played the final eight minutes to near perfection, dethroning the Bulldogs by a 60-55 score.
Winning coach Willard Kehrt, who went with his starting five the entire contest, offered high praise for his ballclub and termed the win the biggest of his highly successful coaching career.
“This was the biggest and most thrilling win we’ve ever had,” said the Hall of Fame coach, who had notched his 400th career win earlier in the season. “I was truly amazed at the way the kids handled themselves there at the end. I kept hoping they wouldn’t fall apart.
“This was a bunch of nobodies that wasn’t suppose to do anything. Now look where we are. They did themselves and Terre Haute proud.”
Although the miracle run would come to an abrupt end against a taller and much quicker South Bend Central team a week later in the state finals, the run by the Eagles remains one of the most surprising and popular chapters in Terre Haute basketball history.
Central ended Garfield’s run with a 72-45 decision at Butler Fieldhouse. Frank Hamblen, who went led the Purple Eagles with 14 points in that loss, would later go on to play basketball at Syracuse University and enjoy a successful career as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, among other NBA teams.
The loss didn’t sour the memory for many involved with the magical trip to Indianapolis.
Those close to it recall with pride and excitement the chain of events that led up to and through what has been the last trip for a team from north Terre Haute to the state finals.
Former team players and coaches of the team rightfully look back with a deep sense of accomplishment on their efforts now five decades later.
Bob Kehrt, son of the head coach, was a year removed from his Big Ten playing days at Purdue and had a first-hand look at the Eagles’ miracle run.
“Dad always said it wasn’t the best team he ever had but maybe his smartest. They had basketball savvy. The chemistry wasn’t there early, but they worked their way through it and was a very good ballclub going into the tournament,” recalled the younger Kehrt.
Don Jennings served as assistant for the team and recalls the turnaround that led to the eventual winning drive.
“We struggled early in the year, but jelled just at the right time. You always want your ballclub playing at its best going into the tournament. I think the key to our success was our defense. That 2-1-2 matchup zone carried us a long way,” recalled Jennings, who also served as the school’s head baseball coach and later went on to take Terre Haute North to two baseball state-final appearances, including the state title in 1974.
Garfield’s 1962-63 roster was a blend of four seniors and eight underclassmen who knew and handled their respective roles well. It included seniors Greg Samuels, Skip Greenleaf, Jack Sanders and Bill Morris and juniors Jim McCallum, Vic Fink, Glenn Salmon, Bob Poynter, Frank Bell, Terry Roberts and Charlie Bensley. Hamblen was the lone sophomore.
Coach Kehrt had spent most of the early part of the season trying to assemble a winning lineup going through 11 different starting units before hitting on the right combination.
Throughout the tourney run, each player — including the subs — provided pivotal roles that produced a winning outcome.
Samuels, the senior leader, led the club in scoring with an average of 14.7 points per game. But more importantly he provided the on-floor leadership that a disciplined offense needed to be so effective.
Now living in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and retired after a successful career in sales, Samuels looks back with pride on his playing days at the high school and collegiate level, where he played at Middle Tennessee State.
The events leading up to and through the tournament journey remain fresh in his mind today, with the Bosse contest standing out the most.
“Without question, we played our best game of the year when we went up against Bosse. We had only five turnovers, our defense was superb against a really good ballclub and offensively we scored enough to win. Defensively, that 2-1-2 match-up zone was so unique that it had the flexibility to be either a zone defense or the switch to a straight man-to-man with a signal called from coach Kehrt. It confused the opposition and contributed greatly to us winning 13 straight at just the right time,” Samuels recalled.
While the trip to Indianapolis ended in disappointment, one bright spot of the day was Samuels being awarded the coveted Trester Award for Mental Attitude. It was symbolic for not only his play on the court but his work in the classroom.
“Something was said about how smart of team we might have been. I do recall that all four seniors were on the National Honor Society, which may have had a little to with our play,” noted Samuels, who served as senior class president.
Sanders drew a starting nod for his stellar defensive play near midseason and on any given night was given the tough task of guarding the opponents best offensive player. No bigger assignment came his way than in the Bosse contest when he was called upon to defend the Bulldogs’ leader scorer and all-state candidate Jerry Southwood.
“Too bad the Bosse game wasn’t the final game at Butler because it mirrored the movie ‘Hoosiers’ in terms of the story line and how it played out. I think if we had played them nine more times we would have lost them all. No one would have bet against them returning to Indy and even repeating as state champion,” said Sanders.
The crafty southpaw, who also starred on the baseball diamond, limited Southwood to 14 points.
“I knew how well he could shoot a jumper and I was able to keep the ball out of hands by staying on his grill. I also remember that our guys made a lot of key shots and that we didn’t make many turnovers. I recall Southwood being so frustrated that he punched the ball way up into the stands at the buzzer,” added Sanders, who now resides in Johnson City, Tenn.
Charlie Bensley, a 6-4 junior, played in the middle and looks back on the ’62-63 season as one filled with surprises.
“It really was a remarkable season. I think at one point, we were 3-9, not winning games [and we went] to winning games we weren’t suppose to,” he said in retrospect.
He still looks back in amazement at the Bosse game when, as a starter, he went the entire 32 minutes.
“I remember coach being asked why he didn’t substitute,” Bensley said.
Kehrt’s simple response: ”Things were going so well, I didn’t want to screw it up.”
“It really was a great night,” added Bensley, who went on to play at the Air Force Academy and Hawaii.
<center>A true team effort<center/>
Morris, a reserve forward who put down a key baseline jumper in the closing moments of the Seymour contest, reflected on the season and semistate final.
“We did not have one dominating player, but we had a bunch of really good, fundamentally sound players,” he recalled.
“I remember coach Kehrt saying before the game with Seymour that we could beat Bosse if we got past Seymour, which we were fortunate enough to do. What I remember most about the Bosse game was how the reigning state champions came to our lockerroom to congratulate us and wish us well in the finals. I thought that was a really classy act for a group of young men who just had their dreams of a repeat championship crushed by a bunch of overachievers from Terre Haute.”
Greenleaf went on to play at Michigan Tech, was a frequent starter throughout the year and vividly recalls the semistate game with Bosse.
“I watched five teammates play the game of their lives. I remember the feeling of walking onto the [Butler] Fieldhouse floor for our finals practice. It was portrayed well in the movie Hoosiers. Also the excitement through out our fan section and watching Greg [Samuels] go up to get the Trester Award. We were able to live the Hoosiers dream of playing in the state finals and we had that great welcome when we came back home.”
Poynter, a reserve guard who remains close to the Terre Haute high school sporting scene as a photographer for the Tribune-Star, says the Bosse game still remains fresh in his memory.
“What an awesome game,” Poynter recalled. “I remember how Greg Samuels took over the game. He wasn’t intimidated by all the hype with Bosse. We knew Greg was the guy who would get the job done when the game was on the line. We just expected it out of him.”
Tom Miller, who severed as an assistant for the basketball team and was the school’s head football coach, is retired and resides in his hometown of Brazil.
As team members reflect on those magical moments, they also take time to remember two who are no longer with them — coach Kehrt, who died in an auto accident in 1996, and McCallum, who died unexpectedly following complications from heart surgery in 1998.
Purple Eagles started season 3-9 before catching fire late in season
TERRE HAUTE —
Over the span of its 103-year history, the Indiana boys high school basketball tournament has traditionally generated its share of stunning upsets.
- High School
Linton, Clay City coaches pulling for each other Saturday in IHSAA basketball regionals
The only Wabash Valley boys basketball teams remaining in the IHSAA state tournament are the two that tied for first place in the SouthWestern Indiana Athletic Conference.
Linton (Class 2A) and Clay City (Class A) each finished 7-1 in the SWIAC. Clay City handed Linton its only conference loss Feb. 18, a 58-50 decision, while Clay City’s only SWIAC setback was by a 62-51 score at Eastern Greene on Jan. 17.
Paris rally falls short in Super Sectional
When Petersburg (PORTA) finally showed it was possible to hit a free throw on the west end of the Illinois-Springfield gym Tuesday night — after 12 misses in a row — it spelled the end of a high school comeback by Paris that looked for awhile like it would be one for the ages.
“I thought we had ‘em,” Tiger coach Shawn Nugent said after the Class 2A Super Sectional game won by the Bluejays 58-49.
Paris seeking finals berth tonight
The Paris Tigers may be the underdogs again tonight when they play at the Class 2A Springfield Super Sectional, or they may be the favorites. What’s already clear as the Illinois boys basketball tournaments for the smaller schools enter their final week is that rankings and reputation don’t matter, particularly to the Tigers.
Class 2A girls: Rick Risinger coaches Heritage to fifth state title
Rick Risinger spoke this past week about defense being the key to securing a win against a talented Fort Wayne Canterbury girls basketball squad in the Class 2A state championship game.
Coach Risinger’s Heritage Christian squad rose to the occasion Saturday in Hulman Center, holding the Cavaliers to 33-percent shooting to claim the school’s fifth state title since joining the IHSAA in 2003.
The Eagles won their first title since 2009 by a score of 64-61.
Class A girls: Oregon-Davis holds off Vincennes Rivet
Oregon-Davis jumped out to a 15-2 lead when senior Alicia McIntosh drilled a 3-pointer in Saturday’s Class A state championship for girls high school basketball.
The Bobcats stretched that lead to as large as 17 before halftime, and still led by double figures with three minutes remaining.
Class 3A girls: Western over Evansville Mater Dei 38-35
Like Fort Wayne Canterbury in the Class 2A championship, two-time defending Class 2A champion Evansville Mater Dei found the going much more tough when moving up one class due to the IHSAA’s “Team Success Factor” legislation.
Mater Dei (26-2), which had an average margin of victory of 27 points throughout the season, struggled against Western’s 2-3 zone all night long in falling to the Panthers 38-35.
Class 4A girls: Bedford North Lawrence wins second straight title
Damon Bailey guided Bedford North Lawrence to a second straight state championship in his first year as head coach.
Bailey, an assistant on the Stars’ unbeaten Class 4A champions in 2013, watched his team hold off a scrappy Penn squad for a 51-41 victory Saturday night.
Central Catholic rallies to defeat Rockville
It was an old story in a new location Saturday for the boys basketball team from Lafayette Central Catholic High School.
Clay City wins third straight sectional
Clay City, the two-time defending champion of the IHSAA Class A Sectional No. 57, took the floor at White River Valley High School with a chip on its shoulder Saturday night.
Linton pulls away late to win at North Knox
Defending smartly and playing the offensive tempo like a finely tuned violin, Linton’s Miners dominated the fourth quarter of a previously air-tight high school basketball game to defeat South Knox 57-45 and repeat as Class 2A Sectional 47 champions.
Damon Bailey among coaches directing daughters at Hulman Center on Saturday
Father-daughter bonding was among the themes Saturday at Hulman Center as Terre Haute played host to the IHSAA girls basketball state finals for a third straight year.
Class 4A title favorite Bedford North Lawrence looked to repeat as champions late Saturday night. Former BNL state champion and Indiana Hoosier great Damon Bailey led his Stars into the game with a pair of daughters on the court. Junior Alexa Bailey, wearing No. 22 of course, is a Butler recruit and sophomore Loren is a reserve for the Stars.
Owen Valley, Edgewood in sectional final again
Things haven’t changed that much in the Class 3A boys basketball sectional. Northview was in the field for the first time and hosted the semifinals Friday night. But for the second year in a row, Edgewood and Owen Valley will play for the Sectional 28 championship tonight.
Temples’ 3-pointers help Paris advance
The prudent thing would have been to pull the basketball out, wait for an opponent to foul and run as much clock as possible in the final minute of the Illinois Class 2A Westville Sectional on Friday night. Audie Temples was thinking dagger.
Ailing Wilkey helps Rockville advance to title game
For part of Friday, doubt existed about whether flu-stricken Rockville standout Keiontre’ Wilkey would be able to play in the first semifinal game of the Class A North Vermillion Sectional for boys basketball. The junior guard gutted it out, however, and tallied 17 points to help lead the Rox over the host high school 61-53. That sent them into tonight’s sectional championship game against No. 7-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic.
Preps: Late free throws help Linton beat North Knox
Linton hit 4 of 5 free throws in the final minute and hung on to defeat streaking North Knox 47-46 in the semifinals of the Class 2A North Knox Sectional for boys high school basketball.
Former Terre Haute resident Rick Risinger looking for fifth state title in Hulman Center
An accomplished group of girls basketball coaches will make their way into Hulman Center on Saturday for the IHSAA state finals.
Damon Bailey, 1990 Mr. Basketball for state champion Bedford North Lawrence and former Indiana University great, is the most familiar name to Hoosier basketball fanatics. In his first year as a girls varsity coach, Bailey leads BNL into action in the 4A state championship game.
With 590 career wins, Fort Wayne Canterbury coach Wayne Kreiger is already a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Behind senior Miss Basketball candidate Maura Muensterman, Steve Goans leads Evansville Mater Dei into the Class 3A title game on the heels of consecutive 2A titles.
No answer: Spears scores 30 as Martinsvlle ends TH South’s season
Terre Haute South ran into a championship performance Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Class 4A Avon Sectional for boys high school basketball. Martinsville’s Troy Spears scored 30 points while leading the Artesians to a 65-44 victory that ended South’s season.
North falls to No. 5 Brownsburg in Class 4A Avon Sectional
Terre Haute North did not bow out of the boys high school basketball tournament Tuesday night like a team on a seven-game losing streak.
The Patriots executed their gameplan, battled back from a double-digit deficit and forced Class 4A No. 5-ranked Brownsburg to hit free throws to win the opener of the Class 4A Avon Sectional.
Brownsburg (19-2) hit six straight free throws in the final 1 minute, 15 seconds to hold off the Patriots 51-47.
Two sets of Eels win at WRV Sectional
There’ll be no Cinderella story in Dugger to end this boys high school basketball season, and a spirited upset bid also fell short Tuesday night at the Class A White River Valley Sectional.
Defensive pressure and depth made the difference in both games, as Eminence ended the Union season — perhaps its last, at least as a public school — by a 59-46 score and Clay City pulled away in the second half for a 53-44 win over Shakamak.
Paris knocks off 23-2 Clinton Central in overtime sectional thriller
Paris’ boys basketball team has learned a lot in a late-season run of success, but the one thing that set the Tigers apart on Tuesday in Class 2A Westville Sectional semifinal game was composure.
The Tigers never got rattled, never flinched and got the ultimate reward.
BOYS SECTIONAL ROUNDUP: Linton holds off Sullivan at North Knox
Linton and Eastern posted victories in the opening round of the North Knox Class 2A Sectional on Tuesday.
Linton led most of the way to defeat Sullivan 51-43 in the first game. Eastern Greene bested North Central 62-42 in the nightcap.
Linton is 16-6 and will take on North Knox and Eastern Greene faces South Knox in the semifinals on Friday. North Knox takes an 11-game winning streak into the action.
Tough roads ahead: Terre Haute North faces big challenges in its sectional
With the hope that the obligatory snow is already on the ground, high school boys basketball sectionals begin today in Indiana, and for one Wabash Valley team in Illinois.
South swimmers fall short of lofty goals at state finals
Sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination.
That would best describe Terre Haute South’s performances Saturday in the 77th annual IHSAA boys swimming and diving state championships at the IU Natatorium.
Center Grove deals Terre Haute North 7th loss in row
Terre Haute North and Center Grove – two teams that haven’t won much lately – struggled to put the finishing touch against the other on Friday at North.
Prep roundup: Casey falls at Robinson Regional; Paris posts upset win at home
Teutopolis finished strong Friday night to defeat Casey 47-36 and win the Robinson Class 2A Regional for boys basketball teams.
Casey, Paris to play in regional title games
Championships of Illinois regional boys high school basketball tournaments will be decided tonight.
AMEY TAKES AIM: Bringing you the Amey Teams for girls basketball
Our Wabash Valley teams won’t be represented when the Indiana girls state basketball finals return again to Hulman Center on March 8 (even though the Class 4A title will probably be decided this weekend when Lawrence North plays Bedford North Lawrence in a semistate game).
I wish some of our girls teams had been able to play longer for a purely selfish reason: that might have given me an opportunity to see one or two of their games.
South boys fall to Southport, finish regular season 8-14
Terre Haute South got an up-close look Thursday night at what a Conference Indiana championship boys basketball team looks like. And Southport is big and quick.
Southport, led by 6-foot-10 sophomore Joey Brunk and junior guard Malik Bennett overpowered South’s Braves 61-49 at Southport Fieldhouse. Brunk had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Bennett scored 21 points.
VIDEO: Wilhelm leads South swimmers into state finals
Christian Wilhelm plans to compete in the distance freestyle when he gets to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s downtown campus.
Wilhelm emerged as a state qualifier in the 500-yard freestyle and 200 freestyle as a junior for Terre Haute South. But his senior season took a different turn and he’s hoping to make a big splash in a new event.
Casey advances to regional title game
Casey will be in the championship game of the Class 2A Robinson Regional for boys high school basketball teams Friday night. The Warriors gained their spot in the title tilt with a 55-42 victory over Marshall on Wednesday.
- More High School Headlines
- Linton, Clay City coaches pulling for each other Saturday in IHSAA basketball regionals